What causes the narrator's heart to begin to beat ("The Seafarer")? 

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Ice and cold, described in both figurative and literal meanings, are throughout this poem. The cold climate of the speaker's sea voyages parallels the loneliness he feels. He feels trapped in this life but also suggests that he accepts it willingly because it is his life and part of God's plan. He feels drawn to life as a seafarer by the sea itself and by a sacred obligation to God. Therefore, he is resolved to this life (as it is God's plan for him), but is always conflicted because it is so difficult.

So, it is a fitting contradiction that the sea, so often described in terms of ice and cold, is what makes his heart beat again. It is as if his heart is frozen (in some metaphoric sense) until he re-enters the icy, lonely world of the sea. It is cold but symbolically gives him life.

The speaker suggests that his life is a spiritual calling. He answers his loneliness with faith in God's purpose. The poem can be viewed in two halves. The first half details the loneliness. The second half grows more religious as he looks to God (and heaven) for solace and comfort. He says that his "soul roams with the sea." If the sea life is his calling (and that which makes his heart beat), there is a strong connection between the sea and God.

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"The Seafarer" is an Anglo-Saxon elegiac poem which laments the narrator's loss of everything. In the opening, the narrator states that story is his (assumed male based upon the typical gender of the seafarer during the period). He provides the reader with an honest and emotional look at his life, both past and present. 

In the opening, the seafarer speaks about his heart being frozen (figuratively) by icy bands and frozen chains (the same as the ones which hold his feet). The only thing which is able to force his heart to beat is to be upon the sea. 

And how my heart

Would begin to beat, knowing once more

The salt waves tossing and the towering sea!

The seafarer only has the sea left. He has no one left to comfort him, all his kin and friends are gone. Only the sea can move the heart of the broken and frozen man. Faced with having nothing left, the seafarer is forced out upon the sea again. He has known the sea his entire life, and it is all he has left. 

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